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Book 28

  1. Stone, Irving — The Agony and the Ecstasy (439 of 763 pages)
  2. Morpurgo, Michael — The Mozart Question (68 pages)
  3. Unsworth, Barry — Stone Virgin (312 pages)
  4. Phillips, Caryl — The Nature of Blood (212 pages)
  5. Howard, Robert E. — The Conan Chronicles, Volume 1: The People of the Black Circle (549 pages)
  6. Lockwood, Richard & Steve Potz-Rayner — A Little Book of Lies (170 pages)
  7. Vickers, Hugh — Great Operatic Disasters (65 pages)
  8. Howard, Robert E. — The Conan Chronicles, Volume 2: The Hour of the Dragon (574 pages)
  9. Rennison, Nick — 100 Must-Read Classic Novels (164 pages)
  10. Augustine of Hippo (John K. Ryan, translator) — The Confessions of Saint Augustine (422 pages)
  11. Fitzgerald, F. Scott — The Great Gatsby (146 pages)
  12. Harrison, Fraser — Infinite West: Travels in South Dakota (188 pages)
  13. Banks, Iain M. — Consider Phlebas (466 pages)
  14. Banks, Iain M. — The Player of Games (307 pages)
  15. Carter, W. Hodding — Flushed: How the Plumber Saved Civilization (239 pages)
  16. Mandela, Nelson — Long Walk to Freedom (750 pages)
  17. Banks, Iain M. — Use of Weapons (411 pages)
  18. Banks, Iain M. — The State of the Art (215 pages)
  19. Banks, Iain M. — Excession (450 pages)
  20. Kazantzakis, Nikos — Zorba the Greek (345 pages)
  21. Banks, Iain M. — Inversions (407 pages)
  22. Banks, Iain M. — Look to Windward (403 pages)
  23. Nouwen, Henri J. M. & Yushi Nomura — Desert Wisdom: Sayings from the Desert Fathers (136 pages)
  24. Gaiman, Neil — The Sandman, Volume 1: Preludes & Nocturnes (217 pages)
  25. Banks, Iain M. — Matter (600 pages)
  26. Banks, Iain M. — Surface Detail (627 pages)
  27. George, Rose — The Big Necessity (308 pages)
  28. Banks, Iain M. — The Hydrogen Sonata (630 pages)
Page count
9820
book cover: The Hydrogen Sonata.

I completed my goal of reading Ian M. Banks' entire Culture series with about 15 minutes to go in the year. Similarly, Banks completed the series shortly before the clock ran out on him. The Hydrogen Sonata does feel like the completion of the series, and not just because Banks will never write another one. I'm sure he could have found more to say about his pan-galactic, post-scarcity, utopian civilisation — I would never call Mr Banks' imagination into question — but the novel has a sense of finality to it.

In The Hydrogen Sonata, the Gzilt, a civilisation closely related to the Culture (as it was nearly one of the founding Culture civilisations but decided to go in a different direction), has decided to Sublime. That is, they've decided as a civilisation to leave the neighbourhood and enter a new plane of existence, part of the natural evolution of a galactic civilisation. The appointed date is nearing and the Gzilt is putting its affairs in order. (Some are seeking to accomplish personal goals, such as our protagonist, who is determined to play "The Hydrogen Sonata," a near-impossible, fiendishly difficult piece of "music" (none of the descriptions are flattering, and we're often told the only enjoyment to be had from it is not aesthetic) written for the unwieldy Antagonistic Undecagonstring.) Suddenly, a Gzilt ship destroys an emissary from a neighbouring civilisation without provocation. What could possess a civilisation approaching Sublimation to commit an act of war against another? This captures the attention of the highest levels of the Culture and sets the story in motion.

As is characteristic of the Culture books, the big ideas, questions, and set pieces are more important than the plot. Why doesn't the Culture Sublime? Are the Gzilt really ready to Sublime? What is Sublimation anyway? To what degree, if any, should the Culture interfere in the affairs of another civilisation? And so on, themes Banks has riffed on from just about every conceivable angle and which have been a great joy to explore with him over these ten books.

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